On P.J. Tucker's offensive leap

Christian Petersen

Are we ignoring the Sun's great strides on offense?

In my 2014 NBA free agent rankings, published Thursday, I placed P.J. Tucker at No. 55, writing this:

He's a 29-year-old enforcer who got a Defensive Player of the Year vote. (From Phoenix's radio broadcaster, that is.) He's much more valuable to the Suns than he'd likely be for any other team. Of very little offensive use.

This drew a good bit of criticism from Phoenix fans. (An example can be found in this comment thread.) Of particular interest is that many Suns fans said I'd ignored or been ignorant to Tucker's "big leaps on offense." Two things about those leaps:

1. The leap was from "completely useless player on offense" to "not a total lost cause on offense." That's usually only an endorsable rise for the league's very best defenders, which Tucker is not. And hence, the "of very little offensive use." He does one thing well on offense. One. And he does it relatively infrequently.

2. The so-called offensive leap results directly and solely from a spike in Tucker's three-point shooting.

Most of the rest of Tucker's offense was as bad or worse in 2013-14 as it had been in his only other NBA season with actual playing time (2012-13). Tucker shot worse at the rim and in the mid-range this season, and his two-point percentage went from 50 percent to 45 percent despite taking fewer of those shots. His usage is still in the "you're basically playing 4-on-5" zone at 14 percent. (Only one guy who played for Phoenix at all this season, Shavlik Randolph, had a lower usage rate than Tucker.) All of those offensive leaps got Tucker to ... 9.4 points per game on shooting that falls below league average.

So we have a guy who rarely shoots but is still worse than league average when he does.

Tucker shot 2.4 threes per game at a 38.7 percent rate. Forty-four guys in the NBA shot more and better. Add in that Tucker, age 29, has never shot anything near that volume or at that efficiency in the past, and in fact wasn't even in the NBA three years ago. He has a one-year NBA track record of being not a total lost cause on offense. This is a walking neon sign that says "potential fluke." In neon orange, if you please.

Tucker can hit the left corner three. He's a tough defender, though undersized at small forward. (Strong as an ox, though.) He's useful, but let's please not compare him to guys like Trevor Ariza.

As I wrote I think Tucker will be more useful for Phoenix -- which has high-octane guards to carry the offensive load and can get Tucker his comfortable shots while asking little else on offense -- than he'd be for most teams. If he proves his shooting isn't a one-year fluke, adds something else to his game or steps up his defense even more, he could be a huge value in free agency. We'll see. But despite the arguments to the contrary, I'm comfortable putting him at No. 55.

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